This Week in Petroleum History, May 15 – 21
May 16, 1934 – Stripper Well Association founded
The National Stripper Well Association was founded in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to represent owners of marginally producing wells. Stripper wells typically produce less than 15 barrels of oil a day or less than 90 thousand cubic feet (Mcf) of natural gas a day. According to the Interstate Oil & Gas Compact Commission, 72.2 percent of all operating U.S. wells in 2015 were marginal.
May 16, 1961 – Gas Museum opens
In southwestern Kansas, the Stevens County Gas & Historical Museum in Hugoton opened in 1961 above a giant natural gas producing area that extended 8,500 square miles into the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles.
The small museum in Hugoton today educates visitors about one of the largest natural gas fields in North America – the Hugoton field. A natural gas well drilled in 1945 is still producing at the museum. Learn more in Natural Gas Museum.
May 17, 1882 – Mystery Well shocks Pennsylvania Oil Prices
A small Pennsylvania township discovered oil in 1882. When word spread about the well’s true daily production, oil prices collapse in an industry less than 25 years old.
The 646 “Mystery Well” flowed at a rate of 1,000 barrels of oil a day. Once a closely guarded secret, news of the Jamestown Oil Company’s discovery sent shock waves through early oil exchanges. More than 4.5 million barrels of oil are sold in one day at Pennsylvania’s three oil exchanges.
“The hilltop settlement of Cherry Grove saw national history in the spring and summer of 1882 when the 646 Mystery Well ushered in a great oil boom,” explains local historian Walt Atwood. The town annually celebrates its Cherry Grove Mystery Well.
May 17, 1901 – Guffey Petroleum founded in Texas
J.M. Guffey organized Guffey Petroleum Company to buy the “Lucas Gusher” well drilled the previous January at Spindletop Hill near Beaumont, Texas. Guffey purchased about half of the well’s high-volume oil production (see Spindletop launches Modern Petroleum Industry). The Mellon family of Pittsburgh owned the remainder. Guffey created Gulf Refining Company to refine and market the oil produced by Guffey Petroleum. Andrew Mellon bought out Guffey in 1907 and reorganized the ventures as Gulf Oil Company.
May 19, 1885 – Lima Oilfield brings Boom to Northwestern Ohio
The “Great Oil Boom” of northwestern Ohio began. Benjamin Faurot – drilling for natural gas – found oil instead. His discovery revealed the Lima oilfield.
“Benjamin Faurot struck oil after drilling into the Trenton Rock Limestone formation a depth of 1,252 feet,” notes the Allen County Museum Historical Society. He organized the Trenton Rock Oil Company.
By 1886, the Lima field was the nation’s leading producer of oil. By the following year it was the largest in the world. Among those attracted to Lima was the future four-time mayor of Toledo. Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones helped found the Ohio Oil Company (Marathon). Learn more in “Golden Rule” Jones of Ohio.
May 19, 1942 – George E. Failing patents Portable Drilling Rig
A pioneer in oilfield technologies, George Failing of Enid, Oklahoma, received a patent for his design of a drilling rig on a truck bed.
“l designate the rear portion of a drilling rig such as used in drilling shallow wells, the taking of cores, drilling of shot-holes, and performing similar oil field operations,” Failing noted in his patent for a design he first built in 1931.
“This invention relates to drilling rigs, particularly to those employing a drill feeding mechanism for controlling pressure on the drill bit, and has for its principal object to provide a simple and readily operable connection between the feeding mechanism and the Kelly rod of the drilling string,” Failing explained.
“In 1931 he mounted an existing rig on a 1927 Ford farm truck, adding a power take-off assembly to transfer power from the truck engine to the drill,” notes Kathy Dickson of the Oklahoma Historical Society.
Failing demonstrated his technology at a 1933 well disaster in Conroe, Texas, where he worked with H. John Eastman, considered the father of directional drilling in the United States.
Failing’s rig could drill ten slanted, 50-foot holes in a single day, while a traditional steam-powered rotary rig took about a week to set up and drill to a similar depth – see Technology and the “Conroe Crater.”
Failing’s portable rig design would benefit millions of people in developing countries by drilling water wells. Today the Enid-based GEFCO (George E. Failing Company) still manufactures portable drilling rigs.
The Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center in Enid displays a Failing rig.
May 20, 1930 – Doodlebuggers found Society
The Society of Economic Geophysicists adopted a constitution and bylaws in Houston, Texas, on May 20, 1930.
The professional organization, which quickly would become a leader in the science of petroleum exploration, today has about 27,000 members in 128 countries.
In 1937 the society adopted the name by which it is known today, the Society of Exploration Geophysicists, which fosters “the ethical practice of geophysics in the exploration and development of natural resources.”
SEG’s journal Geophysics appeared in 1936 with articles about the petroleum industry’s three major prospecting methods then – seismic, gravity, and magnetic.
The journal even warned young geophysicists about employing “black magic” or “doodle-bug” methods based on unproven properties of oil, minerals or geological formations.
“Yesterday’s Doodlebuggers waded through knee-deep mud, battled the elements, and faced the hazards of the field,” explains SEG, noting that today’s geoscientists keep up with rapidly changing technologies.
“The Doodlebugger” – a 10-foot, 600 pound bronze statue by Oklahoma sculptor Jay O’Melia – was unveiled in SEG headquarters in 2002. O’Melia sculpted the “Oil Patch Warrior” dedicated in 1991 in Sherwood Forest. Learn more in Roughnecks of Sherwood Forest.
Listen online to Remember When Wednesdays on the weekday morning radio show Exploring Energy from 9:05 a.m to 10 a.m. (Eastern Time). Executive Director Bruce Wells calls in on the last Wednesday of each month. AOGHS welcomes sponsors to help maintain this website and preserve U.S. petroleum heritage. Please support our energy education mission with a tax-deductible donation today. Contact email@example.com for information on levels and types of available sponsorships. © 2017 Bruce A. Wells.